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An extraordinary victory for people and the environment was won this week when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to begin restoration planning with the National Park Service for Sharp Park, a City-owned wetland in Pacifica.


A restoration vision for Sharp Park.

For many years the City has been operationg a money-losing, endangered species-killing golf course on the property. The new ordinance requires the City to pursue a new vision for the land—a national park vision that provides recreation everyone can enjoy while saving San Francisco money.

How the Campaign Was Won: Subcommittee Turnout

The victory was won this week, but involved years of grassroots campaigning. It culminated on December 5 when we delivered a massive turnout to a subcommittee hearing on the ordinance. Our supporters filled the hearing, spilled into the hallway, and filled the overflow rooms with turquoise T-shirts—the emblematic color of the San Francisco Garter Snake.

The turnout was not only large, but diverse. Our campaign was built on grassroots partnerships between environmental, park, justice, and social service organizations, and it was reflected in the turnout that we were able to generate.


Our coalition showed its strength last April for Save the Frogs Day
Endangered Species/Endangered Communities Rally.

The turnout clearly influenced the subcommittee, which moved the ordinance on to the full board. But perhaps more importantly, it also inspired our supporters. Mike Lynes of Golden Gate Audubon stated “I was impressed by the turn out that you guys managed to produce. I haven’t seen turn out like that for the environmental community on any issue in the past 3 years.” Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club explained that the turnout was “one of the largest the environmental community has ever generated in San Francisco. The diversity of speakers, both in age and ethnicity, was also extremely encouraging and impressive.” A long-time Pacifica resident stated “the subcommittee hearing was truly inspiring . . . extremely welcome and needed, and an accomplishment in itself.”

Who Opposes Restoring Sharp Park? Chamber of Commerce, Wealthy Law Partners, and the One Percent

The diverse groups supporting our campaign stood in stark contrast to the opponents of a new National Park at Sharp Park: elite golfers and development interests from coastal San Mateo County. “Golf purist” Sandy Tatum was there, demanding that Sharp Park Golf Course’s drain on neighborhood parks and city services continue. This wasn’t much of a surprise: the wealthy, Palo Alto-based retired lawyer once convinced San Francisco to take more than $16 million from a state program to build playgrounds for poor children and invest the money in Harding Park Golf Course, San Francisco’s most expensive and exclusive course. To date, the money has not been paid back in full, and San Francisco’s playgrounds and ballfields remain underfunded.

Even more alarming were the coastal development interests intent on using the subsidized golf course as a lure for more development. Courtney Conlon, CEO of Pacifica’s Chamber of Commerce, made this express in her comments, claiming that “Sharp Park Golf Course is the cornerstone of Pacifica’s economic development [including] a proposed plan for a new hotel and restaurant right on the ocean, right next door to Sharp Park Golf Course.”

Yet on the same day, 100 Economists released a report explaining something the New York Times first reported in 2006: that national parks are far better drivers of the local economy than golf courses.

The Full Board Vote

The next day the entire Board of Supervisors weighed-in on the ordinance. The Board of Supervisors is quite different than the Board that existed even two years ago—it is more moderate, and therefore legislation must appeal to the center to have any chance of passing.

This is why we knew that our common-sense, data-driven campaign would be appealing to this Board. Study after study has shown that Sharp Park Golf Course is draining hundreds of thousands of dollars from the City’s coffers annually, while killing two endangered species in the process. Fixing these environmental and financial problems while retaining 18-holes of golf on the land will require massive capital investments—on land that scientists have explained will be lost to climate change-induced sea level rise. A far better plan is to work with Sharp Park’s natural features and create a park everyone can enjoy.


The Board of Supervisors took the Ordinance up in the late afternoon. Supervisor John Avalos first offered some small amendments to the ordinance—all of which were approved. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who has been carrying water for San Mateo County on this issue for years, argued that the ordinance violated the California Environmental Quality Act, but the City’s Environmental Review Officer did not support his claim.

In perhaps the most disingenuous argument, Supervisor Scott Weiner claimed he would not vote for the ordinance because of a policy disagreement with the National Park Service over pet management. But the Supervisor is smart enough to know that walking dogs at Sharp Park is currently illegal, on-leash or off. When a National Park is created on the land, dogs will have much better legal access than they do now. He was clearly trying to avoid debating the measure on the merits, while appealing to Supervisor David Campos—an avowed dog lover—in hopes of peeling away critical votes.

But in the end, Supervisor Eric Mar made a well-reasoned statement about why he supports the ordinance, and referenced the ability of the ordinance to improve golf conditions at City courses; Supervisor David Chiu said he shared our vision and made a small amendment to allow the City to continue to negotiate—but not sign—alternative agreements with other agencies; and Supervisor Jane Kim also expressed her support for our plan. Combined with the votes of Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, and our champion John Avalos, the ordinance passed the full board!

A Team Effort

None of this could have occurred without all our partners helping advance the cause. Michelle Myers of the Sierra Club was particularly crucial in the last few weeks, and the extraordinary commitment of Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association was essential to the success of the campaign. Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity aided with media work, and dozens of volunteers, led by Barbara Beth of the Wild Equity Institute, came through at critical moments. And of course, crucial financial support was also essential, and foundations like the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, and the Fund for Wild Nature played a large role in our success.

What’s Next?

Of course, “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” and there are always things that need to be tended. On December 13, the Board will have its required second reading of the ordinance. We do not anticipate any changes at this hearing. From there, the ordinance will be moved to the Mayor for his signature. If he doesn’t act within 10 days, the ordinance becomes law.

Will the Mayor bow to pressure from development interests and wealthy golf extremists who think this game is more valuable than playgrounds for kids, and services for children and seniors? The mayor has yet to meet with us, and we do know he loves his golf. Stay tuned for more information about the Mayor—and make sure you contact him to express your support for restoring Sharp Park!

December 20, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute, (415) 572-6989
Kerry Kriger, Save the Frogs, (831) 600-5442
Arthur Feinstein, Sierra Club, (415) 680-0643

Mayor Lee Vetoes National Park Partnership Option at Sharp Park

Mayor ignores popular opinion, environmental constraints to push back-room golf development deal

San Francisco— San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee snubbed San Francisco’s political center today by vetoing legislation put forth by environmental and social service organizations. By doing so, he refused to give City policymakers and residents an opportunity to consider a partnership between the City and the National Park Service for long-term management of Sharp Park before a multi-million dollar bailout of the Bay Area’s most controversial golf course is consummated.

The Mayor refused to speak with the organizations that supported the ordinance before acting.

“Mayor Lee’s veto will cost San Francisco millions of dollars, union jobs, and its credibility on environmental issues,” said Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute. “Our coalition will continue to press on all fronts to ensure Sharp Park becomes a public park everyone can enjoy.”

Until now the City has been pursuing a back-room deal with San Mateo County to socialize Sharp Park Golf Course’s costs and privatize the revenue stream so an elite golf development can be constructed on California’s coast. The legislation the Mayor vetoed would have allowed these negotiations to continue, but required the City to also review a partnership option with the National Parks Service, which already manages several properties near Sharp Park. Working with NPS would have allowed the City to consider other feasible options for the land before investing tens of millions into a golf course that will be under water, financially and physically, in the next 50 years.

“Today was an unfortunate day for the democratic process in San Francisco,” said Dr. Kerry Kriger, founder of Save the Frogs, whose supporters sent over 4,000 letters to the City in support of the legislation. “Mayor Lee refused to meet with any environmental group to discuss the issue. His veto extends the death sentence that endangered California red-legged frogs receive every time the City uses taxpayer money to pump Sharp Park’s wetlands out to sea.”

The veto comes days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a central element of San Francisco’s plan to continue golf operations at Sharp Park Golf Course. In a December 8, 2011 letter to the City the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the City’s application for a “recovery permit” to clear vegetation from wetlands and lagoons that the golf course uses as its drainage system. Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the City must either create a habitat conservation plan for Sharp Park or obtain a permit through a formal consultation process for projects that adversely affect endangered species. The letter effectively put the City on notice for civil and criminal penalties should frog egg masses be harmed or moved as a result of golf course operations.

“Mayor Lee and the golf lobby he represents know that their back-room golf development deal for Sharp Park is politically unpopular and will not withstand scrutiny,” said Plater. “So they are trying to prevent the public from having a choice at Sharp Park. We will make sure that the public is given an opportunity to make that choice in 2012.”

“The City is making a poor investment choice for its Recreation and Parks dollars. We will need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to make this golf course operational, and more to make it compliant with Fish and Wildlife standards,” said Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club. “In the next 50 years Sharp Park will have to address sea level rise; the properties behind Sharp Park’s sea wall are already experiencing flooding due to a poorly managed water system. Why the City would increase expenditures at Sharp Park when City parks are suffering is beyond me.”

Visit wildequity.org for more information about our campaign to restore Sharp Park.

The Wild Equity Institute is building a healthy and sustainable global community for people
and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.

http://wildequity.org/

December 16, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute, (415) 572-6989
Arthur Feinstein, Sierra Club, 415-680-0643
Neal Desai, National Parks Conservation Association, (510) 368-0845

Federal Agency Rejects San Francisco’s Sharp Park Plans

Groups call on Mayor to Support Sharp Park Legislation, Address Mounting Problems

SAN FRANCISCO— A central element of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s plan to continue golf operations at Sharp Park Golf Course was rejected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last week. The move strengthens the need for San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee to sign legislation approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that would allow City policymakers to consider a new park partnership option with the National Park Service.

For years, the Recreation and Parks Department has tried to convince regulators, the public, and public officials that Sharp Park Golf Course’s operations encourage the recovery of endangered species in the area. But a December 8, 2011 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied the Department’s formal attempt to classify golf course activities as a “recovery action.”

In particular, the FWS rejected the Department’s application for a “recovery permit” to clear vegetation from wetlands and lagoons that the golf course uses as its drainage system. Instead, the FWS stated that the Department must either create a habitat conservation plan for Sharp Park or obtain a permit through a formal consultation process for projects that adversely affect endangered species.

“The City is now on notice that its activities are harming endangered species, and that they do not have permits to cause this harm,” said Brent Plater, executive Director of the Wild Equity Institute. “If the City nonetheless moves forward with its existing golf plans, City employees could be subject to civil and criminal penalties.”

“The City must change management activities at Sharp Park Golf Course to comply with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s directive,” said Neal Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Mayor Lee’s approval of legislation that will allow for a potential partnership with the National Park Service, America’s leading expert in endangered species recovery, will provide opportunities and benefits for the City, including evaluations of feasible options that reduce fines, save San Francisco money, and allow it to sustain park services in San Francisco.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service letter also expressly rejected the Department’s contention that the golf course’s water management activities are beneficial for the California red-legged frog. For years, the City has been pumping water from Sharp Park’s wetlands to prevent flooding on the golf course. This exposes California red-legged frog egg masses to the air, causing the eggs to dry-out and die. Rather than obtain a permit for its pumping operations, the City received emergency authorization to move over 100 egg masses that were stranded at Sharp Park Golf Course during last year’s peak breeding season. The City intended to continue this practice this winter, but the Fish and Wildlife Service letter states that the City will no longer provide this authorization, and the City “must obtain incidental take coverage prior to seeking the movement of any egg masses that may be stranded this winter.”

“If San Francisco is going to retain any credibility in its commitment to protect our endangered wildlife, Mayor Lee needs to support the Sharp Park legislation,” said Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club, referencing legislation that would allow San Francisco policymakers the opportunity to review a potential partnership proposal with the National Park Service alongside proposals from San Mateo County.

Environmental groups are currently suing the City for violations of federal endangered species laws. On November 8, Judge Susan Illston decided to withold on-the-ground relief for endangered species until after the lawsuit reaches trial. The Judge’s opinion relied on the City’s assertion that it would move any stranded egg masses this winter pursuant to Fish and Wildlife Service authorization. Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected this request, the City must change its golf course operations. Extensive evidence of harm to red-legged frogs at the golf course last winter shows that the Park Department’s endangered species “compliance plan” has failed.

More information on the Sharp Park legislation:

The golf course at 400-acre Sharp Park is plagued by crumbling infrastructure, annual flooding problems and ongoing environmental violations. The site is home to two federally protected species, the California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake. Three dozen San Francisco community, recreation, environmental and social-justice groups have called for closing the golf course and creating a more sustainable public park at Sharp Park.

This month the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation that would begin a restoration planning process for Sharp Park. The legislation is a preliminary step to an agreement with the Park Service for long-term managament of Sharp Park. If the legislation is not vetoed by Mayor Ed Lee, the Park Service is expected to work in partnership with the City to develope a management agreement with Sharp Park. Any management plan would go through an environmental review process, public review and hearings, and come back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. The legislation allows the City to negotiate with other parties to manage the park, such as San Mateo County or Pacifica, but ensures city decision-making considers the potential Park Service partnership proposal as well.

The Park Service is expected to propose restoring the site to coastal habitat with a trail network and other public-serving amenities. Sharp Park is within the legislative boundary of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and adjacent to the Park Service’s Mori Point, where a successful, multimillion-dollar wildlife habitat and trail restoration project accommodates neighbors, school groups and families in a community-based model of park creation. Coastal restoration experts released a scientific study and restoration proposal for Sharp Park showing that removing the golf course and restoring the natural lagoon, wetlands and beach processes is the least costly and only sustainable solution for the land. Restoration will provide the most public benefit and best protect endangered species, at much less expense than the Park Department’s costly plan to dredge wetlands and physically alter golf holes.

If a long-term management plan is reached that closes the golf course, a transition plan would allow for continuation of golf during the planning phase under certain conditions that safeguard endangered species. Pacifica residents would be allowed to pay San Francisco resident rates at San Francisco’s five other golf courses and jobs held at Sharp Park golf course would be redeployed from Pacifica to San Francisco, to help improve neighborhood recreation and park facilities within San Francisco. Lincoln Golf Course, a potential beneficiary of these new staff resources, was identified in a 2007 National Golf Foundation study as needing increased maintenance staff to improve course conditions to attract more players and revenue.

Visit wildequity.org for more information about our campaign to Restore Sharp Park.

The Wild Equity Institute is building a healthy and sustainable global community for people
and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.

http://wildequity.org/

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